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Du Bellay's time in Rome: The Antiquitez.

Rome and the Present

In 1553, Joachim du Bellay sets out for Rome on a diplomatic and poetic mission: he is secretary to his older relative Cardinal Jean du Bellay, and he is in search of the ancient models that will provide the source of a new French poetry, the task of the latter laid out four years earlier in his Deffence et Illustration de la Langue Francoyse. The Antiquitez de Rome are, of course, an expression of the poet's (1) profound disappointment at what he sees before him, in which he finds neither the greatness nor the durability that he hoped to bring back in order to promote both poetic and political grandeur for the future of France. Precisely what du Bellay finds in Rome and what he tries to bring of it to French poetry have been widely debated in criticism, which only recently has begun to yield on the position that the Regrets constitute an obviously superior work. (2) In spite of the regret also expressed in the Antiquitez, on the title page they are termed "une generale description de [la] grandeur" of Rome. (3) That is, there is still a greatness available in Rome, which in the sonnets is most frequently identified with Roman writing. I would like to propose that the absence of the "original" Rome in which these writings were produced is not simply lamented in the Antiquitez; rather, their current lack of groundedness allows them to be taken up and reworked by the French Renaissance poet, who thereby produces the space in which a properly French poetry will take place. That is, the Antiquitez are not primarily an expression of lamenting nostalgia, but instead a production of a poetry in the present and for the future.

Du Bellay is pursuing, in rigorous fashion, the notion of imitation that he put forth in the Deffence. Although it would be tempting to view the Antiquitez as an instance of practice in relation to the theorization elaborated in the Deffence, I would rather view the Antiquitez as also continuing that theorization--the Deffence itself is not only theory but Illustration or practice. (4) I would like to show here that du Bellay extends the notion of imitation to the Roman ruins themselves: just as Roman writing is composed of signs now severed from their original context, or signifiers bearing an indefinite relationship to what they signify, the ruined monuments that the poet views also no longer signify the greatness that they did when they were first built. Du Bellay imitates this capacity of the signs constituted by the monuments: he represents them as continually moving away from what they first represented, and in so doing he borrows from the motion of signs in order to rearrange them in a new configuratio n that will constitute the new French poetry. This poetry is thereby composed of signs whose mobility is valorized; it may hence offer models for future imitations, one of the principal goals for the new poetry that du Bellay states in the Deffence. (5) In the Antiquitez, the mobility of signs is characterized as a temporality, such that the present may be viewed as the future of ancient Rome, and the ruining of the latter in time as the very process by which poetry arises in the present. Indeed, as I hope to show, du Bellay goes so far as to demonstrate that the difference between the ruin of modem Rome and the glory of ancient Rome occurs on a continuum in which each configuration of signs constituting Rome is a repetition, though altered, of the previous one. In lamenting the ruins of Rome, then, du Bellay is able to form the tie with Rome's greatness that is necessary to the production of French greatness in the present and for the future.

In antithesis to the "generale description de [la] grandeur" of Rome, the title page further qualifies the Antiquitez as "une deploration de sa Ruine" (269)--although, as I will show, this lamentation is staged so as to be overcome by the production of poetry in the present. The ensuing sonnets point to the emptiness of the ruins they describe: they suggest and demarcate the void faced by the poet who has come to Rome. This void is pointedly explored in sonnet 3, the one in the sequence that has perhaps attracted the most attention. G. Hugo Tucker has made the case not only for the necessity of accounting for the intertextual relationship between the Antiquitez and numerous other poems on the status of ancient Rome in modernity, most notably those of Janus Vitalis, (6) but also for that among the sonnets in the collection. (7) I would like to examine sonnet 3 and several other poems of the Antiquitez in the context of their intricate associations, not only among themselves and with other poems but also with a descriptive text in prose by Bartolomeo Marliani, in order to further the understanding of du Bellay's poetic project and the role of Rome in it.

Greatness in Ruins

In the third sonnet, the emptiness of present-day Rome is illustrated through the disparity between two dramatically different significations of the name Rome. This difference is important in connection with the fluid relationship between signifier and signified that du Bellay's poetic project promotes. In the first quatrain, the repetition of the name Rome brings to view its capacity as a signifier with multiple signifying capacities:

Nouveau venu, qui cherches Rome en Rome,

Et rien de Rome en Rome n'appercois,

Ces vieux palais, ces vieux arcz que tu vois,

The "tu" of this poem is the French newcomer seeking to witness the glories of Rome in the relics of its past, the ruins or antiquities of Rome. Now, antiquite and ruine function as both descriptive and normative terms: the suggested expectation of the interpellated witness, in a relationship of linguistic intimacy with the poet, (8) is that Rome displays monuments that clearly signify its glory, even if this glory belongs to the past. But here and throughout the Antiquitez, the pejorative connotations of the two words on the title page are valorized through a continual disruption of the expectation. What constitutes the ruin of Rome is a failure to signify the eternal city, the failure of the city and of its name to do so. In the dense texture of this quatrain, du Bellay brings out the emptiness of the spectacle of the city, which penetrates to the very signifying capacity of the words used to describe it.

Et ces vieux murs, c'est ce que Rome on nomme.

The repetition of Rome is situated in a sequence of graphic and phonetic repetitions, which complement the semantic functioning of the words in which they occur: in "nouveau venu," the repetitions are of n and v respectively. Given that these poems are about ancient things, the word nouveau stands out: it throws the word vieux, written three times in two verses, into sharp relief, the tension of the semantic opposition emphasized by the common letter. The lower-case v, in du Bellay's typography, appears as u, or an inverted lower-case n: the resemblance underscores the proximity that contains an apparently intractable opposition. The word venu (uenu) not only designates the witness but illustrates him as caught between the opposing terms of the old and the new Rome. The letter v also begins vois, what the venu or witness is doing, the activity by which he is a witness and that is primary in this description of the ruins of Rome. (9) The n begins a series that includes the negation ("rien ... n'appercois") tha t signifies the emptiness or nothingness encountered in the view of the city.

The word that ends the series, "nomme," is repeated in the fourth verse, where it functions as an internal rhyme to Rome; this repetition repeats the verse's formal rhyme with the second occurrence of Rome in the first verse, the latter being the first repetition of this name. That the series of repetitions of Rome is finished by nomme stresses the function of Rome as a movable name in the poem, as well as the fact that the name most at issue in the problem of naming raised here is Rome. Rome also stands in a graphic and phonetic, and through these semantic, relation to rien, by way of both the letter r (which is also placed in the words designating two of the general forms in the spectacle of Rome, arcz and murs) and this word's location in the series of nasals that echoes the sound -om-: en, rien, en, on. On, finishing this series and also functioning as the generalized, French-speaking subject of the act of naming, announces that the language in which Rome will now be named, described, and circumscribed is French. Rien is also phonetically and anagrammatically related to ruine, a word to whose semantic functioning it contributes. (10)

Words and the World

For the newcomer to Rome, then, the ruins of Rome demonstrate that Rome is in ruins. What is available to view is that, ironically, there is nothing to view; visible in the ruins are only traces of a former grandeur, at one remove from their source. The first time the name Rome is mentioned, to signify the Rome that the newcomer seeks, at issue is the Rome of the Renaissance imaginary, the eternal city. The second time, almost immediately afterward, the word signifies the present-day city that the newcomer has found. Du Bellay situates these meanings in opposition, although much writing of the Renaissance presents them as coincident, as though the eternal city is still to be found in the ruined one, contemporary with it--the staged expectation of du Bellay's poet. Gilbert Gadoffre offers an extreme example of such an attitude, in Petrarch's unequivocal support of the 1347 coup by Cola di Rienzo, which culminated in the claim to European governments for a resurrected Roman Republic of "la meme autorite, puissa nce et juridiction qu'il a eues jadis, et annuler tous les privileges contraires ce droit." (11)

An example much closer and more pertinent to du Bellay is Bartolomeo Marliani's Antiquae Romae topographia, published in a number of editions from 1534 to the end of the sixteenth century. Its 1548 Italian translation, L'Antichita di Roma, precedes du Bellay's arrival in Rome by a very short time, and du Bellay imitatively takes its title for his series of poems. (12) The book contains a highly detailed description of the entire city of Rome, the artifacts that still stand, and the artifacts that once stood; the exact situation and dimension of each of these is given in relation to what a sixteenth-century tourist in Rome would find. Name after name is provided--in contrast to du Bellay's book, from which names are markedly absent (I will return to this point below)--as though the ancient city were still present in the present-day city. Quite remarkable is the dedication to Francois [] in the abridged 1544 edition: "FRANCISCO REGI GALLORVM VRBIS ROMAE LIBERATORI INVICTO" ("To FRANCOIS, KING OF THE FRENCH, UN CONQUERED LIBERATOR OF THE CITY OF ROME"). Marliani uses the word inuictus to describe the unconquered status of the French king. As may easily be expected, he also ties it to ancient Rome in the first sentence of the dedicatory statement, speaking of the ancient citizens as "inuictis" ("unconquered"). Marliani paradoxically links the specifically Roman characteristic of being unconquered to the contemporary conqueror of Rome, and at the same time makes a gesture of transmitting and reviving this characteristic through the French conquest. Marliani writes of those Roman posterity who, living "in... Imperatorum memoria" ("in... memory of the Emperors"), "immortalibus aedificiis earn ornauere" ("adorned it [the memory] with immortal monuments"). (13) He underscores the immortal, unconquerable nature of the city of Rome, even in the face of its antiquity and conquest. By contrast, du Bellay addresses this notion of Rome and its status during the French occupation by underscoring the age of the monuments, the dec ayed signifiers of Roman immortality. By taking only the name of Marliani's book and placing it on his own in a reworking imitation, he treats it as a floating signifier; his own book presents these signs as vastly distant from what they signify. The first meaning of the signifier Les Antiquitez de Rome (L'antichita di Roma), Marliani's, is ancient Rome in its full presence in the present; the second, du Bellay's, is the emptiness of present-day Rome. The two meanings stand in opposition to each other, each nearly synonymous with the first and second meanings of the word Rome.

The poet evidently wishes for the first meaning of Rome, expressed by Marliani, to be the only one, wishes for a unique and stable meaning. To write Rome, if this were the sole meaning of the word, would be to inscribe the city that inscribes the entire world, the seat of empire. As such, the word Rome of stable meaning designates the city that contains and stabilizes the world, and with it, the poet would hope, the meaning of all words. The wish is that this city, when its name is written, were available in its totality before the witnessing poet, as du Bellay tells us in the two tercets of sonnet 26:

Rome fut tout le monde, & tout le monde est Rome.

Et si par mesmes noms mesmes choses on nomme,

Comme du nom de Rome on se pourroit passer,

La nommant par le nom de la terre & de l'onde:

Ainsi le monde on peult sur Rome compasser,

In this context Rome is represented as signifying this totality as a presence. The doubt suggested as to whether names are indeed tied to the things they name is forestalled by the posited solidity of the meaning at issue: Rome by another name would still be Rome, since Rome is the entire world, all together and all at once. The plan of the city, which may be inscribed by the single name Rome, inscribes the world as a map: Rome is thereby said to be synonymous with the world. World domination, which transposes the plan of the city over all known space and offers the latter in a single view, would also make the meaning of words--"mesmes noms" would signify "mesmes choses"--fully available and transparent to the poet.

Puis que le plan de Rome est la carte du monde.

The movement from past to present tense in these verses (14) indicates that the wish is for the solidity of the city, the world it dominates, and the name that designates it to be durable: Rome ought to be the eternal and correlatively unshakable city. The name Rome, then, should be the anchor of meaning for all words, what binds names to what they name, signifiers to their signifieds. Rome is the ultimate love-object, the full possession of which would be the overcoming of all division and the satisfaction of all desire. (15) In the third of du Bellay's Amores, (16) the word Roma in the first line is anagrammatically reversed in the course of the poem and appears as its very last word, Amor. Rome begins as the place where love cannot be found:

Ipse tuas nuper temnebam, Roma, puellas,

Nullaque erat tanto de grege bella mihi.

(I myself have of late, Rome, despised your girls,

At the beginning of the poem Rome, the city, has a function in the area of sexual love comparable to that which it has in relation to the love of the ancient city. But when its name is reversed to Amor, and Amor shoots his flaming arrow into the poet's heart, love is found in Faustina, who, before being taken away, "Venit in amplexus terque quaterque meos" ("Came into my embraces three or four times"). But now that she is gone,

And none in such a large crowd has been beautiful to me.)

Scilicet hoc Cypris nos acrius urit, ipse

(Of course this Cypris burns us more acridly,

More highly in our heart reigns Amor.)

Love makes its presence felt by the absence of the beloved. In Roma is Amor, which signifies this great lack.

Altius in nostro pectore regnat Amor.

The Renaissance poet who has made the voyage to Rome wishes to take in his love-object, the durable ancient city, in one view and by uttering one name. But such a spatial and temporal totality is by all evidence no longer available in the city or its name. Any prelapsarian age of poetry (which the poet is transposing from Eden to Rome, in keeping with the Christian moral viewpoint that informs the Antiquitez), in which a name may have been firmly fixed to its meaning, is irretrievably lost. The meaning of the word--the ultimate of meanings, the entire world in full, eternal presence--is quite absent, as is shown when the name Rome, again in sonnet 3, is written a second time. This second instance shows that the word's function may be entirely different, even such a short space away on the page: the present-day city signified by the name is present, but its presence indicates the glaring absence of the desired meaning as well as the absence at the heart of the word's signification. Not only is modem Rome in ru ins; the ruins indicate that the very name Rome, which should signify as fully as a word can--should indeed serve the poet as a model of full signification--is the most mobile of signifiers, moving in the very small space of a single written syllable across the vast distance between the two notions that it can signify. By implication, then, with no anchor available, words are not firmly fixed to what they mean; any word may, as Floyd Gray puts it, fall into ruin. (17)

The Temporal Limits of Eternity

The poet is not only reminded by the ruins that a certain golden age of poetry in which the writings of antiquity may have been produced no longer exists; he is also faced with the cruel paradox that the eternal city had a limited life span. In the second quatrain of the third sonnet, du Bellay elaborates the description of the two meanings of the name Rome, again showing the contrast between them. He names an attribute proper to the Rome of the imaginary, orgueil; on this trait the city rose to such heights of glory as to rival the realm of divinity, and hence came as close to immortality, eternity, as anything in this world may. (18) In sonnet 6, the final verses state that Rome did indeed reach such heights. But the verb tense indicates that this feat very strictly belongs to the past: Rome was able to render equal "Sa puissance a la terre, & son courage aux cieux," and hence, in its domination of the earth, to surpass all other human power. This equality with the heavens is also an equality with heaven, t he realm of the Christian deity, which du Bellay transposes to the realm of the pagan gods. In sonnet 24, du Bellay speaks of "quelque vieil peche" (v. 10) as having determined the ultimate fate of Rome: "Vos murs ensanglantez par la main fraternelle" (v. 13). Following a tradition whose origin Gadoffre attributes to Saint Augustine, (19) the entirely Christian notion of original sin is mapped onto the foundation of Rome, the murder of Abel by Cain onto that of Romulus by Remus. Hence du Bellay takes up medieval conceptions of the sin of pride in his characterization of Roman hubris.

This equality with the heavens/heaven, involving "courage," could thus not make Rome equal to the heavens/heaven in "puissance": Rome rivaled the heavens/heaven in such a way as to threaten them (sonnet 27: "L'antique orgueil, qui menassoit les cieux" [v. 2]), and hence to be struck down. Of course, then, in the text of sonnet 3 orgueil is followed immediately by its negation in ruine. As ruine also indicates rien, the juxtaposition of orgueil and ruine, ostensibly an antithesis, may also be read as a synonymity: in its very striving for immortality, Roman pride was struck down by the heavens, and so amounts to nothing. (20) Roman immortality was, after all, subject to the same destructive forces as everything else under heaven--in other words, it was not immortality:

Voy quel orgueil, quelle mine: & comme

Celle qui mist le monde sous ses loix

Pour donter tout, se donta quelquefois,

Et devint proye au temps, qui tout consomme.

Again, Rome was the unique locality that was able to master the world, to bring it together as a totality under one set of laws. Like the gods, it dominated everything. But in that it belonged to the world, it too fell under the very power of domination and destruction that it harnessed in order to conquer the world. Deborah Lesko Baker has indicated the ambiguity in the verb se donta with regard to its functioning as either a reflexive or a passive. (21) It appears that Rome subjugated itself through the same forces that it directed toward its own subjugation of everything else. But the next verse, Baker points out, indicates that Rome was consumed by something other than itself, time, that to which nothing in this world, in the realm of mortality, may offer resistance--hence, se donta appears to be functioning as a passive. The first tercet tells us that it is indeed Rome that defeated Rome--the ambiguity is that the former and the latter Rome may or may not be the same. The repetition of the word seul sugg ests that Rome is unique, even as it is vastly transformed over time:

Rome de Rome est le soul monument,

Le fleuve ne se peult arrester nullement,

Et Rome Rome a vaincu seulement. (22)

I concur with Baker that the ambiguity of the pronominal verb remains. Here again we have two meanings of the same name, evident in the first verse of the tercet: present-day Rome, the city of ruins, is the monument or tomb of the ancient, glorious Rome that has died. The repetition of this repetition in the second verse suggests that it is the Rome of ruins that defeated old Rome. A return to the second quatrain allows a reading of time as that which consumed the old Rome and transformed it into the later Rome, the tomb or monument of the earlier one that marks its past grandeur. Carried along by time, the only enduring destructive force, the Rome of ruins defeated glorious, invincible Rome. It is the mobility of the name Rome that gives se donta its concurrent reflexive and passive functions. That Rome could be defeated by itself, or by a version of itself that was, by virtue of the consuming power of time, other than itself, indicates that the invincible city could be defeated, that the eternal city could fall prey to time. (23)

Shaky Ground

There is, then, in the very difference between the past and the present city, a continuity between the two: the latter reveals the former to be what it is, against what it might have wished to be. This reading is supported by Tucker's excellent observation that the word consomme in the eighth verse of sonnet 3 should be read as involving both consumere (to consume, destroy) and consumare (to perfect, complete, consummate).24 The consumption of Rome by time is also its consummation or completion: it is in this completion that Rome is revealed to be what it is, something that has persisted over time, vastly metamorphosing rather than simply perishing. We begin to see a positive aspect of the word Rome even as it designates an absence: this completion, which marks a total transformation, is precisely its availability to the Renaissance poet. The two senses of Rome, rather than simply marking an irrevocable opposition, reveal a flow of meaning, the one transforming into the other over time.

What the labor of the poet reveals is not only that the city of ruins is a decayed image of the glorious city, but also that the glorious city of the Renaissance imaginary is merely an imaginary city, a phantasm, an ill-founded image or simulacrum with no existing original: a city that is eternal could not die, as ancient Rome evidently has. Du Bellay's text offers a criticism of its close intertext, that of Marliani, which presents ancient Rome as still existing, its monuments as immortal. This simulated image of Rome is dislocated from what it ostensibly represents; likewise, the word associated with it is a signifier that has no necessary tie to what it signifies. This image, designated by one usage of the word Rome, itself becomes mobile and thereby available to the poet for his purposes. The name Rome, then, functions in a way that imitates that which it names, movable and transposable from one meaning to another in the poetic language in which it is written or uttered. As Rome, the word, and Rome, the c ity, have been sought as anchors of meaning in the quest for a meaningful language in which to write poetry, a corollary of the discovery that they are fluid images is that all words have such a fluidity with regard to their meanings. In the poetics implied by the Antiquitez, the relationship between signifier and signified, as that between the present image of the city and what it represents, is one of fluidity, a fluidity that necessarily involves temporality. Time, the consuming and consummating force, is what moves a sign from one meaning to another.

Meaning in Time

The movement of time is figured as fluidity in sonnet 3. In the first and second tercets, the Tiber is named as that which has survived Rome's decay:

Le Tybre seul, qui vers la mer s'enfuit,

Reste de Rome....

It is through the Tiber that old Rome is connected to present-day Rome, through a process of rester or remaining. (25) This reste, remainder, or remains of Rome, is explicitly said to constitute the one thing in Rome that is not in ruin, and hence what remains living and visible from the old Rome. Of course, as a reste, it also signals that old Rome does not remain intact, and hence forms the only possible link to that city. The flow of the Tiber, like that of time, brings into association past and present, signifier and signified, representation and represented. Indeed, as Tucker and Eric MacPhail have pointed out, the movement of the Tiber represents or imitates that of time. (26) They support this interpretation with du Bellay's placement of the face of Saturn, god of time, on the Tiber, in sonnet 9 of the Songe appended to the Antiquitez.

In associating time with the Tiber, du Bellay is espousing a particular philosophical notion of time. This notion involves flow and, in antiquity, is derived from receptions of Heraclitus, who comes to du Bellay through his translation of a passage from Ovid. In this perspective time is a succession of moments, each involving a change from the previous one, none of which may be reproduced in its original state, as du Bellay's translation suggests:

Comme un fleuve, le temps coule eternellement,

Ny l'heure, mais ainsi que l'onde pousse l'onde,

Et que premiere a l'une, l'autre elle est seconde,

Ainsi le temps leger se fuyt en se suyvant

Et tousjours est nouveau: car ce qui fut devant

Vient apres, & se fait ce qu'il n'estoit l'heure:

Ainsi jamais le temps sur un point ne demeure. (27)

This is a conception of time that allows for Rome to have been transformed, for the present-day Rome to be a decayed image of the past one, for ancient Rome to have borne the image of eternity for only a limited duration--that is, for Rome to have been its own simulacrum, the simulacrum of the eternal city. By the same token, ancient Rome was only one configuration of the city, preceded and followed by unlimited other configurations. The succession of moments from past to present is indeed a flow, one in which each configuration may refer to an antecedent one in producing its own meaning, but may not reproduce or depend on it in order to be firmly fixed.

Rome Multiplied

The difference between past and present may hence be seen not only in the relationship between modern and ancient Rome, but also between ancient Rome at one moment and another, modem Rome at one moment and another; difference permeates the continuity of moments that is the flow of time. Each of these moments, in following or repeating previous ones in the continuity of temporal flow, affirms its difference with them ("ce qui fut devant/Vient apres, & se fait ce qu'il n'estoit l'heure"). In such a conception of time, every configuration of Rome must be a simulacrum: in the unlimited series of configurations none may be seized as the primary antecedent, none may claim to be the original. It is this condition of Rome that is revealed to the poet viewing modern-day Rome. Again, the name Rome is in flux, a floating signifier that continually refers to prior signifiers in order to derive its meaning, these being necessarily different from one another. As with the repetitions of sounds in sonnet 3, organized around the name Rome, there is never an exact reproduction from one meaning to the next. (28) Still, Rome maintains a certain continuity through the fragile stability of its monuments; the name Rome itself, even in its fluidity as a sign, functions as such a monument. As Marie-Francoise Notz astutely points out in a rhetorical analysis of the Antiquitez, Rome the place and Rome the proper name function as a commonplace in the classical sense, a topos, which enables the transposition of a continuity onto what is otherwise a temporally transforming succession. (29)

Du Bellay finishes sonnet 3 with a further affirmation of the association between fluidity and temporal flux. Again, the transformative power of these two is presented as destructive, even though that meaning is not stable in the poet's words:

0 mondaine inconstance!

Ce qui est ferme, est par le temps detruit,

Et ce qui fuit, au temps fait resistance.

The lamentation that follows the observation on the Tiber as the remainder of Rome has an ironic dimension, as time has made Rome available to the poet for positive transcription and repetition. The 0 whose form indicates emptiness and absence may be read not only as opening the lamentation, but also as being answered by the rest of it. "Mondaine inconstance" is to be lamented, but it is also the character of that which is transformed so as to become available to the poet. The two final verses employ the antithesis that has marked the poem, an antithesis that also suggests equivalences. We have seen that what is "ferme" cannot possibly be eternal, and so must be transformed and ultimately destroyed in the movement of time. The flight or flux of the Tiber may resist time because it figures time, moves along with it, does what it does. The very nature of the Tiber is to transform, in both the transitive and intransitive senses of the verb. The word resistance should also be understood according to both Latin se nses of the verb resistere, the first of which is the literal "to stand again," and the second, by extension, "to stay, continue." The prefix re- suggests the repetition involved in the river's movement, such that it stands again as it did in ancient Rome. The Tiber is both the signifier of Rome's standing again, continuation, in the present day, and the figure of that which has completely transformed it. The name Rome continues to stand in relation to its multiple signifying possibilities.

In this succession of different configurations of Rome that the poem discovers, the ruins or antiquities of Rome do not function as the historic Rome or even as a clear representation of that city from which the poet may derive inspiration. Likewise, the poet cannot give, in this description of Roman grandeur, a true picture of the glorious presence of the ancient city. Through examining the procedure of naming and its fluid relation to meaning, the poet has found that this Rome never existed, that the model he has sought was and remains a simulacrum. The antiquities named in the title of the sequence of sonnets refer only obliquely to the physical ruins that du Bellay finds in Rome, (30) in a full affront on Marliani's painstaking descriptions. As it describes the city, the poet's description imitates aspects of the things he sees: by their decay and amorphousness they indicate how far removed they are from the grandeur they once represented. They are, in du Bellay's context, signs of the difference between modern-day and ancient Rome, a difference all the more pronounced by the state of the signs. (31) And as signs, they are mobile with regard to what they signify: a city that has fallen into ruin, or the glory of a magnificent though definitively temporal empire. The status of Rome and its literary tradition as model for the poet of the French Renaissance is by no means one in which the poet will try to reproduce mimetically what he finds in the model; indeed, it is not possible for him to leave the model alone, to leave it untransformed as he proceeds. Like the word Rome in du Bellay's context, these mobile signs participate in the procedure of naming the city that the poet wishes to evoke, even if he cannot find that city in front of him. What du Bellay does, setting an example for writing a poetry in French that will declare the glory of France, is to imitate the ruins of Rome in order to produce his own Antiquitez de Rome.

Imitating Ruins

As is well recognized, imitation is key to the poetics of the Pleiade that du Bellay announces in the Deffence et illustration de la languefrancoyse. In the Deffence, of course, du Bellay speaks of imitating not physical ruins but rather the work of other poets, particularly those of antiquity, as well as that of the best contemporary ones from the vanous European traditions. What du Bellay means by imitation has been much debated. (32) For my purposes here, I will submit the following definition: although du Bellay insists on distinguishing imitation from translation, it partly involves the latter. Rather than producing a faithful image of original texts, in imitation the poet borrows pieces of text, moves them around, reorders them, transforms them, and writes a text that addresses and contributes to the present context, that produces an intertextual relationship between the latter and the texts drawn on. It is true that du Bellay only suggests and does not pursue this idea of imitation in the discourse of the Deffence; but in the composition of the text he valorizes it by practicing it, primarily by way of the Dialogo delle lingue (1542) by Sperone Speroni, as well as pieces by Erasmus, Etienne Dolet, Cicero, Quintilian, and others. (33)

In the Antiquitez, du Bellay takes numerous pieces of text from both ancient and contemporary sources. The significance of his use of Marliani's title, and of the pointed and vast differences between the representations of Rome in his book and in Marliani's, should not be underestimated. Sonnet 3 alludes back to two versions of a Latin poem by Vitalis, and du Bellay translates and reworks it according to the needs of his own context: whereas in Vitalis' account the eternal city simply ceased to exist, du Bellay's innovation in the imitation is the discovery that it never existed. Again, a city is not eternal or immortal if it dies, and these characteristics are integral to the Rome of the Renaissance imaginary, exemplified in Marliani's Antiquae Romae topographia. This interpretation of the ruins of Rome is of value to du Bellay because it enables the notion of poetry as actually productive of a simulacrum, so that an image of glory for France may be created by the same token that such an image of Rome has be en. That Rome's uniqueness consists in its having been able to produce an image of this sort makes it possible for such production to be repeated as a simulacrum.

Specters of Truth

It is in writing that the ruins or visible signs of Rome will be transcribed and their multiple signifying possibilities discovered; the intermediary of Roman writing remains crucial to this procedure. This notion is put forth in sonnet 5, where the poet again relates the ruins he sees before him: if the "architecture" of the city

Quelque umbre encor de Rome fait revoir,

C'est comme un corps par magique scavoir

Tire de nuict hors de sa sepulture.

The "umbre" or phantom of Rome, visible in its architecture, is comparable to a revived corpse, a poor or even false image of ancient Rome, as it no longer carries the latter's "esprit" (mentioned in the last verse of the first tercet), and hence moves without direction. If Rome indeed had a spirit, its departure is simply part of the flow of time and inevitable destruction, which of course leads to the generation of new configurations of signs. But the image of Rome that was produced during antiquity, the image that du Bellay wishes to imitate as a contribution to his patria, subsists in what is designated by the word in the first verse of the second tercet that is associated anagrammatically and phonetically with esprit, escripts. It is in the writings of Rome that its image, available for the poet willing to undertake the labor of reworking or imitating, may be found:

Mais ses escripts, qui son loz le plus beau

Malgre le temps arrachent du tumbeau,

Font son idole errer parmy le monde.

These writings pull something else out of the tomb, the "loz," the grand image of Rome, which is resurrected as long as the writings are read actively, that is, reworked through the labor of writing. Again, even in honoring Rome, du Bellay cannot leave it in an untransformed state. The "idole" of Rome that is brought to wander through the world is, according to Screech's etymological reading, its eidolon or specter, (34) an image that is separated from the object it represents, the simulacrum that the poet may place in his own context. It may be viewed as the spirit of the otherwise dead letter of Roman writing; but as a sign it is both corporeal and spiritual, and may hence be situated in the new context. (35) It is in writing that the idole subsists--in the Latin literary tradition du Bellay is discovering, and in the modem writing that situates this tradition as antecedent in order to repeat it. Writing is the labor that maintains and carries forward the literary remainder of the Roman Empire: it is deeply involved with translatic stud ii, the transfer or translation of ancient and developing learning from predecessor to successor in the general direction of Western expansion. (36) Of course, errer and idole should also be read in their double sense, as Wayne Rebhorn suggests: errer also signifies an aimless wandering rather than a directed movement, and idole may be understood to mean an idol or false god that leads the adorer away from "the true Christian one." (37)

I would like to add, though, that it is the task of du Bellay's poet to direct that idole to the appropriate purpose: the invention of a new poetry that will glorify the French language and by the same token the French patria. Du Bellay is implicitly taking issue with the Platonic notion of the simulacrum, exemplified in poetry and banished from the Republic because of its capacity to seduce and deceive. (38) My interest here is not so much to signal du Bellay's particular relationship to Platonic doctrine; (39) it is, rather, to explore his criticism of what has been characterized as a governing distinction in the history of Western thought, that between simulacrum and true image, definitively articulated in the Platonic texts. (40) Du Bellay valorizes poetry and the complexities of its simulating capacities, and in so doing debunks the notion that there is a unique, eternal form or idea of patria embodied in Rome. Imitation is not for the purpose of participating in such an eternity, but rather for taking t hose aspects of the signs of which the patria is composed in order to produce the configuration of signs that will constitute the glory of the new French patria.

There is, however, a type of simulacrum whose deceptive effects du Bellay warns against, that found in the empire that has supplanted the Roman one. After the fall of Rome, he tells us in the first tercet of sonnet 17,

Alors on vid la corneille Germaine

Se deguisant feindre l'aigle Romaine,

Et vers le ciel s'eslever de rechef.

For the Latin poets, Screech remarks, it is the nature of the corneille to disguise itself and imitate. (41) Du Bellay here distinguishes his own participation in translatio studii from that with which it has been associated throughout the Middle Ages, translatio imperii, the extension of old Rome that occurs with the Holy Roman Empire. (42) The criticism in these verses of the Holy Roman Empire, what distinguishes its version of imitation from du Bellay's, is that it presents itself as that which preserves the Roman Empire and posits the simulacrum of Rome that du Bellay has debunked as the original form in which it participates. (43) The imitation practiced by the corneille Germaine, presenting itself as the one true image of eternity in its ascendancy above the earth, can only forestall the further imitation that du Bellay seeks in his valorization of the simulating function of poetry; it refuses to admit the mobility of signs that the ruins of Rome offer to du Bellay, which he wishes to exploit in the inv ention of a new French poetry. The imitation that du Bellay defends and illustrates in the Antiquitez de Rome necessitates a recognition that written signs are mobile and thereby transposable to other contexts; in similar fashion, the interpretation of the ruins as antiquities and signs contributes to the rearrangement of the signs by which they are signified in poetry. It is the procedure of naming, the initial quest for a fixed meaning for the name Rome whose result is to demonstrate that none may be found, that exemplifies the poet's task. Naming demonstrates and actualizes the fluidity of signs by which the French-speaking newcomer may, on arriving in Rome, take from what is old in order to introduce something previously unseen into the language of his own country.

Idolizing Imitation

Du Bellay opens sonnet 32, the last in the sequence, with the following questions:

Esperez vous que Ia posterite

Doive (mes vers) pour tout jamais vous lire?

Esperez vous que l'oeuvre d'une lyre

Puisse acquerir telle immortalite?

In light of the treatment of the possibility of eternity in the Antiquitez, the answer that du Bellay's verses give is a resonant "no," a rejection of the hope of immortality. An antecedent to the Antiquitez on the question of immortality, the writings of Rome, are not immortal; rather, they live only in imitative reworkings, in this case those of the new French poetry. Such reworkings will take place until French verse can achieve its own recognition among posterity and function as models for future imitators. And by the transformative effects of time, these verses may one day survive only as an idole to be imitated in French or another language, brought to life by this imitation. Du Bellay must be regarded as a thoroughly modem poet: his work seeks a continuity with a venerated past in order to effect a break with it, such that movement in time toward the future is recognized and engaged.


(1.) The poet implicated in the Antiquitez, the speaker who is ostensibly writing the verses, is not strictly identical to du Bellay; rather, his experiences and attitudes often fictionalize those of du Bellay. A formal distinction must therefore be made between this poet and du Bellay. Throughout, I will maintain a terminological distinction between the two.

(2.) Cf. G. Hugo Tucker, Tire Poet's Odyssey: Joachim du Bellay and the Antiquitez de Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 1-2, 45-46; G. Hugo Tucker, "Writing in Exile: Joachim du Bellay, Rome and Renaissance France," in Zweder von Martels, ed., Travel Fact and Travel Fiction: Studies an Fiction, Literary Tradition, Scholarly Discovery and Observation in Travel Writing (Leiden and New York: E. J. Brill, 1994), 120-21.

(3.) Joachim du Bellay, Antiquitez de Rome, in Les Regrets et autres oeuvres poetiques, ed. J. Joliffe and M. A. Screech (Geneva: Droz, 1974), 269. All subsequent references to the Antiquitez will be to this edition; particular sonnets will be designated by number in the body of the text.

(4.) Cf. Hassan Melehy, "Do Bellay and the Space of Early Modem Culture," Neophiologus 84:4 (October 2000): 501-515.

(5.) Joachim du Bellay, La Deffence et Illustration de la langue francoyse, ed. Henri Chamard (Paris: Didier, 1948). Cf. 27-28: "Le tens viendra (peut estre), & je l'espere moyennant la bonne destinee Francoyse, que ce noble et puyssant Royaume obtiendra a son tour les resnes de la monarchie, & que nostre Langue (si avecques Francoys n'est du tout ensevelie la Langue Francoyse) qui commence encor' a jeter ses racines, sortira de terre, & s'elevera en telle hauteur & grosseur, qu'elle se poura egaler aux mesmes Grecz et Romains, produysant comme eux des Homeres, Demosthenes, Virgiles & Cicerons, aussi bien que la France a quelquefois produit des Pericles, Nicies, Alcibiades, Themistocles, Cesars & Scipions."

(6.) Tucker, The Poet's Odyssey, especially 105-73.

(7.) Ibid., 3-4 and passim.

(8.) The use of the pronoun tu suggests that the words also belong to this witness, and that the language of both poet and witness is thereby French.

(9.) On the importance and paradoxical nature of viewing in the Antiquitez, see especially: Francoise Giordani, "Utilisation et description de l'espace dans Les Antiquitez de Rome de Joachim du Bellay," in Yvonne Bellenger, ed., Du Bellay et ses sonnets romains (Paris: Champion, 1994), 22; and Floyd Gray, La Poetique de Du Bellay (Paris: Nizet, 1978), 52-53 (cited by Giordani).

(10.) This portion of my analysis owes much to a number of different commentators and critics. Cf. Gray, 46: "Du Bellay fait rimer nomme avec Rome et c'est la deficience de l'onomastique, c'est-a-dire l'action subversive des mots, qui provoque son interrogation de la destinee de la ville ... La reprise a I'interieur do vers d'un meme mot provient egalement do desir de faire ressortir un sens plus profond que le temps lui aurait enleve; ainsi il subit le meme sort que la chose qu'il designe; il peut souffrir d'une perte de signification, tomber semantiquement en ruine. Pour le constater, sinon y remedier, il suffit de repeter on mot; la reprise fait rejaillir et contraster le sens plein et le sens vide;" Deborah Lesko Baker, "Do Bellay's double eternity: Two Sonnets from the Antiquitez de Rome," Neophilologus 73 (1989): 354 and Barbara Bowen, The Age of Bluff: Paradox and Ambiguity in Rabelais and Montaigne (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972), 17-20.

(11.) Gilbert Gadoffre, Du Bellay et le sacre (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), 92.

(12.) To my knowledge, no commentator has previously signaled do Bellay's duplication of the Italian title of Marliani's book. The editions of the latter that are of interest here are the following: Bartolomeo Marliani, Antiquae Romae topographia (Rome: Antonio Blado, 1534); Vrbis Romae topographia (Rome: Academia Romae, 1544); L'Anrichith di Roma, tr. Hercole Barbarasa (Rome: Antonio Blado, 1548). There is also an English translation: John Bartholmew Marlianus, The Topography of Rome in Ancient Time, in T. Livius, The Romane Historie, also, The Breviaries of L. Florus, with a Chronology to the Whole Historie, and the Topography of Rome in Old Time, tr. Philemon Holland (London: Adam Islip, 1600), 1074-1122. I have found no reference to a French translation.

(13.) The full passage is as follows: "Romani Illi prisci inuictis, Rex cum majoribus, magisque necessariis rebus animum adiecissent, huius urbis pulchritudinem contemnere uisi sunt. Posteriuero, ateque in praesertim, qui Imperatorum memoria fuere, multo labore, summa arte, summaque impensa innumerabilibus, & praeclarisimis, ac pene immortalibus aedificiis earn ornauere" ("Those ancient Romans, O King, are seen to have despised the beauty of this city, as they turned their minds to their unconquered elders and more necessary matters. But in truth posterity, and especially those who lived in the memory of the Emperors, with much labor, the greatest art, and the greatest expense adorned it with innumerable, and most striking, and as I may say immortal monuments.")

I would like to thank Christine Cooper and Sara Johnson for generously assisting me in translating Marliani's Latin.

(14.) Cf. Tucker, The Poet's Odyssey, 129-30.

(15.) Cf. Wayne A. Rebhorn, "DuBellay's Imperial Mistress: Les Antiquitez de Rome as Petrarquist Sonnet Sequence," Renaissance Quarterly 33:4(1980): 609-22. In response to earlier critical consensus, Rebhom sees du Bellay as maintaining the sonnet's traditional subject of love rather than abandoning it. In the Antiquitez, Rome becomes the idolized mistress who resists the lover's efforts.

(16.) Joachim du Bellay, Oeuvres podtiques, v.7, ed. Genevieve Demerson (Paris: Nizet, 1984), 137.

(17.) See note 10.

(18.) Let us remember Marliani's statement concerning Rome's adornment with "immortalibus aedificiis" (see note 13).

(19.) Gadoffre, 128-30.

(20.) Cf. Baker, 355.

(21.) Ibid.

(22.) Cf. Tucker, 160-61.

(23.) Cf. Bowen, 19-20.

(24.) Tucker, The Poet's Odyssey, 63 n. 16. Tucker points out that both Cotgrave and Nicot give only the latter definition. Cf. also 166-67, and Tucker, "Writing in Exile," 128-29.

(25.) Cf. Tucker, The Poet's Odyssey, 160-61.

(26.) Ibid., 164-68, and Tucker, "Writing in Exile," 128; Eric MacPhail, "The Roman Tomb or the Image of the Tomb in du Bellay's Antiquitez," Bibliotlulque d'Humanisme et Renaissance 48:2 (1986): 364. Tucker does a fine reading of these verses in sonnet 3 alongside two of du Bellay's principal intertexts for this poem, Janus Vitalis' "Roma Prisca" (1553) and "De Roma antiqua" (1554), two versions of the same Latin poem that du Bellay imitates (157-73), Cf. also Bowen, 18-19.

(27.) Joachim du Bellay, Oeuvres poetiques, ed, Henri Chamard (Paris: Droz, 1931), v. 6,430. The actual statement of Heraclitus is the following: "As they step into the same rivers, different and <still> different waters flow upon them" (T.M. Robinson, Heraclitus: Fragments [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987], fragment 12, 16-17). Through restatements during antiquity, especially by Plato (Cratylus 402a) and Aristotle (Metaphysics 1010a), this sentence came to be understood as expressing a metaphysical principle on the constancy of change in all things, that is, the famous "You can't step twice into the same river." Cf. Edward Hussey, The Presocratics (New York: Scribner's, 1972). 54. The Ovidian version, in du Bellay's translation, names time as the continuum in which change ceaselessly occurs.

(28.) Cf. Marie-Francoise Notz, "Nom propre et lieu commun dans Les Antiquitez de Rome," in James Dauphine and Paul Mironneau, eds., Les Cahiers Jacques de Laprade: If. Du Bellay (Pau: Centre Jacques de Laprade, 1994), 39: "Les sons qui paraissent se repeter ne sont jamais exactement reproduits... Les sons et le sens coulent comme un fleuve, 'Le Tybre seul, qui vers la mer s'enfuit', sans jamais retourner.

(29.) Notz refers to Cicero for her definition of the topos: "un point nodal, qui permettait de menager la singularite du cas et I' extension de la loi; de relier Ic present au passe en retrouvant un argumentaire transposable dans une nouvelle occasion; enfin de permettre aux auditeurs de 'suivre' le raisonnement de I' orateur, fut-ce par un deplacement imaginaire" (40).

(30.) V.-L. Saulnier points out that the poet shows little interest in these ruins: of the "palais," "arcz," and "murs" he mentions in sonnet 3 and throughout, he does not provide even a single name. V.-L. Saulnier, "Commentaires sur les Antiquitez de Rome," in Bibliotheque d 'Humanisme et Renaissance 12 (1950): 139. Cf. Giordani, 22: "Les Antiquitez de Rome semble... offrir a I' imagination visuelle du lecteur un espace singulierement vague, denude et depeuple."

(31.) Cf. Giordani, 24 and also Gadoffre, 88-89: "Do Bellay ne s'attarde pas a decrire. A travers les pierres et le passe it va droit a cc qui lui est essentiel: la signification" (Giordani cites Gadoffre).

(32.) See, among others: Jean-Claude Caron, "Imitation and Intertextuality in the Renaissance, New Literary History 19:3 (1988): 565-79; Chamard, in his edition of the Deffence, passim; Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 60-76; Michel Deguy, Tombeau de Du Bellay (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), 105-14; Margaret W Ferguson, "The Exile's Defense: Du Bellay's La Deffence et illustration de la langue francoyse," PMLA 93:2 (1978): 275-89; Margaret W. Ferguson, Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 18-50; Gray, 17-24; Thomas M. Greene, The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 189-96; Ignacio Navarrete, "Strategies of Appropriation in Speroni and Du Bellay," Comparative Literature 41 (1989): 141-54.

(33.) I am summarizing my analysis of do Bellay's notion of imitation in the Deffence, which I have provided in "Du Bellay and the Space of Early Modern Culture." On the antecedent texts of the Deffence, cf. Chamard, vi and passim, Navarrete, 142 nn. 1-2.

(34.) Screech, in Do Bellay, LesAntiquitez de Rome, 278, note to v. 14.

(35.) My understanding of the relation between the word loz and the labor of writing is indebted to that of Miriella Melara, in "Du Bellay and the Inscription of Exile," Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Reforme 28:2 (1992): 10.

(36.) Cf. Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 29.

(37.) Rebhorn, 617. To support his reading of the word idole, Rebhorn points out: "Interestingly, Renaissance critics of courtly love denounced it as a species of idolatry, for the lover placed his mistress in the elevated position more appropriately reserved for God" (617-18).

(38.) Plato, Republic 6o6e-6o7c. On the triad of forms, the true images that participate in the forms, and imitations or simulacra, cf. 596a-597b.

(39.) This topic has been thoroughly treated by Robert Valentine Merrill in The Platonism of Joachim du Bellay (1923) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

(40.) Cf. Gilles Deleuze, "Platon et le simulacre," in Logique du sens (Paris: Minuit, 1969), 292-307.

(41.) Screech, 290, note to v. 14.

(42.) Cf. Curtius, 29.

(43.) Du Bellay is refusing the new imperium in good humanist fashion, as Gadoffre suggests in connection with this passage and several others: "Nous nous trouvons ici en presence d'un non qui sonne comme un echo au non d'Erasme, adversaire lui aussi des fanatiques de la translatio imperii, et pret a voir dans la notion de 'Monarchie universelle' une survivance absurde, un dangereux fantome d'idee, inanem magni nominis umbram" (99).
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Author:Melehy, Hassan
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Date:Mar 22, 2001
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